When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Geopolitics

Mexico's Drug War: Some Advice For The Next President

Editorial: Whoever is "lucky" enough to win Mexico's upcoming presidential election will inherit a gruesome drug war that has already killed some 55,000. Just this week, 49 headless corpses turned up near the northern city of Mo

Police take a suspected drug trafficker off a helicopter in Hermosillo in the state of Sonora, in 2009 (Knight Foundation)
Police take a suspected drug trafficker off a helicopter in Hermosillo in the state of Sonora, in 2009 (Knight Foundation)

SANTIAGOBy all indications, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the political machine that dominated Mexican politics for 70 uninterrupted years before losing power in 2000, is set to regain the presidency in the country's upcoming July 1 election.

The party's front-running candidate is Enrique Peña Nieto, a 45-year-old lawyer with boyish good looks and promises of reform. Many of the Mexicans who support him, however, don't in fact want reform. They got enough of that with Felipe Calderón, the current president, who reformed the country's approach to the drug trade by launching an armed conflict in 2006 against drug trafficking cartels. Since then some 55,000 people have died - roughly the same number the United States lost in the Vietnam War.

Peña Nieto's sizeable lead in the polls (17 percentage points at last count) has less to do with the strength of his candidacy than it does with how frustrated voters are over the current government's failures, particularly when it comes to the drug war and the economy. Both of those problems, in turn, have much to do with Mexico's geography: namely that it shares a 2,000-mile border with the United States.

Of all the countries in Latin America, Mexico – which is a member along with Canada and the United States of the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) – was the most affected by the U.S. recession of 2008-2009. Even though its economy is growing again, Mexico is still feeling the effects of the 6.3% economic contraction it suffered in 2009.

Its giant northern neighbor is also the world's largest consumer of illegal drugs. The United States, according to various studies, buys between $14 billion and $49 billion worth of illicit drugs annually. The lion's share of those products pass through Mexico, whose trafficking cartels control 90% of the drugs that enter the United States, one U.S. Congressional study estimated.

Drug trafficking existed during the years that the PRI was in power as well. But never during the party's so-called "perfect dictatorship," as some observers describe the PRI's decades-long grip on power, was there so much violence. Privately, some Mexicans who support Peña Nieto talk with nostalgia about the bygone days of PRI dominance, when the government kept things calm in Mexico by maintaining a tacit agreement with the cartels.

Even if such a pact did exist, there'd be no way to replicate it now. Until the late 1990s, the cocaine that entered the United States was controlled by two Colombian cartels: one from Medellin, the other from Cali. Mexican cartels did have some market share, but nothing compared to what they were able to take control of once the Colombian government – with help from U.S. money and troops – dismantled their Cali and Medellin competitors. Also, when the Colombians ran the show, there were really just two mafia groups doing business. The Mexican cartels, in contrast, are numerous.

Even before Calderón dispatched government troops to engage them, the Mexican cartels were already fighting amongst themselves. They continue to do so now. When soldiers manage to take down one faction, violence tends to surge as the remaining groups battle for control of the defunct cartel's former territory.

America's failed "lock-em-up" strategy

What has the United States done in the meantime to help manage things on the consumption end? Over the past 30 years, U.S. authorities have increased by a factor of 10 prison sentences for people convicted of drug-related crimes. Tough sentencing laws haven't stopped people from consuming drugs. But they have led to an increase in street-value drug prices. The other result is that the United States now has the world's highest incarceration rate. According to a study by King's College in London, nearly 1 in every 100 Americans is behind bars.

U.S. authorities spend $7 billion per year arresting and legally processing more than half a million people for drug-related offenses. But the drug market barely seems to be affected. An annual drug survey carried out among American students keeps coming up with the same results: last year – just as they did in 1975 – roughly 75% of respondents said it is "very easy" to obtain marijuana.

Peña Nieto faces a huge challenge. He has aired the idea of turning the approximately 50,000 soldiers involved in the fight against organized crime into a national guard. He says too that he will seek greater cooperation from the United States. But as long as there continues to be a market for illegal drugs, there will be organizations keen to satisfy that market by producing and distributing those drugs.

Some people are calling for legalization and decriminalization as a way to mitigate the problem. A few U.S. states have legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes. And some Latin American countries, including Mexico, have decriminalized possession of small amounts of drugs – even cocaine, heroine and methamphetamines. The problem of narco-violence, however, remains.

Legalizing marijuana for recreational use would help. For several Mexican cartels, trafficking and distribution of the plant is their primary source of revenue. But even if the United States were to legalize marijuana consumption – which, at least in the short term, seems highly unlikely – there would still be high demand for other illegal drugs.

Several former Latin American presidents have joined forces in lobbying for polices that combine legalization and decriminalization with prevention and treatment programs. Instead of spending mountains of money on police and military repression, and on locking people up, governments should direct that money instead to the public health sector.

There is anecdotal evidence from various countries suggesting such an approach can be effective. The next Mexican president would do well to give this focus serious consideration, starting at home and then, once he or she has some positive results to demonstrate, share the evidence with authorities up north. Maybe President Obama – or Mitt Romney – will pay attention.

Read the original article in Spanish

Photo - Knight Foundation

You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Economy

Europe's Winter Energy Crisis Has Already Begun

in the face of Russia's stranglehold over supplies, the European Commission has proposed support packages and price caps. But across Europe, fears about the cost of living are spreading – and with it, doubts about support for Ukraine.

Protesters on Thursday in the German state of Thuringia carried Russian flags and signs: 'First our country! Life must be affordable.'

Martin Schutt/dpa via ZUMA
Stefanie Bolzen, Philipp Fritz, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister, Mandoline Rutkowski, Stefan Schocher, Claus, Christian Malzahn and Nikolaus Doll

-Analysis-

In her State of the Union address on September 14, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, issued an urgent appeal for solidarity between EU member states in tackling the energy crisis, and towards Ukraine. Von der Leyen need only look out her window to see that tensions are growing in capital cities across Europe due to the sharp rise in energy prices.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

Sign up to our free daily newsletter.

In the Czech Republic, people are already taking to the streets, while opposition politicians elsewhere are looking to score points — and some countries' support for Ukraine may start to buckle.

With winter approaching, Europe is facing a true test of both its mettle, and imagination.

Keep reading...Show less

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in
Writing contest - My pandemic story
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS

Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

Watch VideoShow less
MOST READ